U.S. authorities have said that they successfully thwarted an alleged plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh separatist leader, on American soil. A senior Biden administration official told the media that concerns have been raised regarding the involvement of the right-wing government in New Delhi.
The White House stated on Wednesday that the U.S. is treating the plot with the utmost seriousness and has conveyed these concerns to the Indian government at the highest levels. The unnamed official revealed that U.S. authorities have alerted New Delhi, expressing apprehensions that the Indian government might have had prior knowledge of the plot.
The official refrained from providing details on when and how U.S. officials became aware of the plot or how the alleged attempt was foiled. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently investigating the matter, but both the FBI and the Justice Department declined to comment on Wednesday.
The Financial Times first reported the thwarted assassination plot, revealing that the U.S. had informed some allies about the alleged conspiracy. The report did not specify whether the U.S. protest to India led to the abandonment of the plot or if it was foiled by the FBI. The protest was registered following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the U.S. in June.
In addition to the diplomatic warning, U.S. federal prosecutors have reportedly filed a sealed indictment against at least one suspect in a New York district court, according to the Financial Times.
The delicate nature of the issue is underscored by the Biden administration’s efforts to cultivate close relations with India, driven by shared concerns about China’s growing influence. Law enforcement officials have repeatedly warned of foreign governments attempting to harass, stalk, or intimidate dissidents and political opponents within the U.S.
India’s Foreign Ministry responded, acknowledging that the U.S. had raised concerns about a “nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists, and others.” The statement described the information as a “cause of concern for both countries”.
This revelation follows Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s September disclosure of credible allegations linking the Indian government to the assassination of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. India rejected the accusation, leading to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the target of the thwarted plot, is the general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, labelled an “unlawful association” by India in 2019 for its alleged involvement in extremist activities. Pannun, listed as an “individual terrorist” by India in 2020, responded to the news, stating that threats to his life on American soil from Indian operatives are a challenge to America’s sovereignty, similar to the challenges Canada faced with Nijjar’s assassination.